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Friday, April 29, 2016

Supporting Our Silverbacks: Nothing Irrational About It - by Ben Whitehead

For many involved in the ongoing “Soccer Wars” happening all over the United States, the appearance of Major League Soccer in your city can illicit a myriad of responses, from happiness to anger or indifference. These wars have been going on for some time in battlegrounds such as Minnesota, Detroit, and most directly for myself, Atlanta. Browse the Twitter timelines of any of the supporter groups for teams in these areas and you will see arguments occurring incessantly. To look at the bright side of this issue, it reveals the passion which has been bred for soccer in these communities across the US.

A strong community is most important in the soccer equation. Any team that wishes to compete has a hard time doing so without support. Our American sporting mind has been tailored to think that there should be 28-32 teams per sport in one league and that is it. Along with this comes the idea of prestige. Fans want to cheer for a team because they win. That’s why you have multitudes of fans of the Yankees, Cowboys, Red Wings, and whoever Lebron plays for. This need for validation causes some fans to clamor only for teams “at the top” - whatever that means to them. Look no further than the thousands of college football fans who cheer for Alabama, USC, Notre Dame, Texas and others who have most likely never enrolled in those schools, much less set foot on campus. As American soccer enthusiasts, we must not give in to the idea that there can only be one option for soccer in your community.

With that in mind, our attention turns to the Atlanta Silverbacks. I have been a supporter of the Backs since 2013. That was the first year I realized that there were options for soccer closer to home than, at that time, Texas, Kansas, Ohio or D.C. For much of its 20 year history, MLS had no teams in the south - the folded Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion being the lone exceptions. In my naivete, I accepted that the growth of MLS was equivalent to the growth of soccer in the United States. I could not have been more wrong. This idea was built on the same American mindset that “the largest league is the best league and your team is irrelevant if it isn’t in that league.” (I’ve encountered this in college sports as a supporter of Troy University.)

During my time with the Silverbacks, I have been through many highs, many lows, two leagues, an abysmal front office and both good and bad interactions with those who work there. But front office staff come and go. Supporters stick around. Patience is a virtue and is often rewarded. The club now has managing partners that include a legendary ex-Silverbacks player and a lifelong Silverbacks fan who, as a skilled player agent, helped start the career of Kwado Poku. People who CARE are running our club now - and for that we’re grateful.

As a loyal supporter of a club in the “lower leagues”, I can tell you this: we’re not in it for some agenda. We don’t do it to seem cool. We don’t do it because we HAVE to support a club that always wins (although it’s nice when that happens). We support our team because of a connection that we’ve formed with it and our community of fellow fans. Jumping ship for (or “also supporting”) something else because it promises to be bigger, better, newer, whatever - just doesn't feel right.

Current club management and passionate supporters are working hard to make sure this 20 year old tradition is here - and thriving - for the next generation. If you are interested, you should check out the Atlanta Silverbacks FC Trust (@ASFCTrust), who are working to bring at least partial supporter ownership to ASFC.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Gorillas vs Gladiators - by Taylor Peyton

Earlier this week it was announced that the Silverbacks would be hosting Gladiadores FC for a Preseason friendly. Kickoff is set for 3 pm on April 30 as part of the club’s FREE kickoff party. Before this post goes on any further, I feel like it is my duty to give you the clarity I wasn’t given before originally writing this piece. Contrary to what has been posted before on social media, we are not playing Gladiadores FC from Mexico, nor are we playing a Handball team from Argentina. How has all of this confusion occurred within a club with minimal staff that all have very busy schedules? Probably the same reason a mom of three forgets an important thing on her shopping list when she goes to Kroger. There’s a lot of things to focus on, and occasionally things will be forgotten. If you feel a bit upset by this, just remember that you weren’t the one that spent hours on Google trying to find out every piece of information you could about the Mexican team like a certain blogger did, just saying.

So which Gladiadores are we playing? That question will be answered in the next few sentences! If you haven’t figured it out, Gladiadores translate to “Gladiators” in English. Not to be confused with Atlanta’s ECHL Hockey team, or the previously mentioned Mexican Gladiators (that mistake has already been made, let’s not do it again), these Gladiators play in Liga Magg, an amateur league based in Metro Atlanta, with some games even being played at Silverbacks Park. Gladiadores currently hold second place in the Premier Division of Liga Magg. A good number of Gladiadores players used to play professionally in Brazil, according to General Manager Phoday Dolleh

Despite the case of mistaken identity, this preseason match is highly anticipated by Silverbacks supporters and well worth getting excited for. With the US Open Cup fixture against Reading United looming large, this preseason match is more important than some people may think. We’ll see in 6 days time how much chemistry has already been developed amongst our players. Come to Silverbacks part to get a good look at our new talent.

Make sure to follow the club account (@ATLSilverbacks), our account (@SilverbacksBlog) and all of our Silverbacks’ Supporters Partners on Twitter for more Atlanta Silverbacks FC news.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes Part 1 - by Taylor Peyton

Time may change our Silverbacks, but we can't trace time. So let's turn and face the strange. This year we have new owners, new coaches, new leagues. Here is some quick information to help you keep pace with the Silverback’s changes.

The Owners

Boris Jerkunica -  Yes, it is indeed THAT Boris Jerkunica. The Chairman of Atlanta Silverbacks LLC who originally made his fortune as a technology entrepreneur. Boris built Atlanta Silverbacks park, and owned the Silverbacks from 2000 up until 2015 when the NASL took control. Now that the NASL is out of the picture, Boris is back in. He still owns Atlanta Silverbacks Park but it seems that he has less power than before. His years with the Silverbacks led him to be named one of the top 100 leaders in Atlanta Hospitality. However, his time with the Silverbacks has not been free of controversy. The biggest one coming in 2012 when Boris sold the rights to host a US Open Cup game to their opponent, Seattle Sounders. This practice has since been banned.

John Latham - Believe it or not, John Latham was a part of the Silverbacks before Boris was! A man that made his fortune as a lawyer, Latham and another lawyer named Bobby Glustrom bought “A-League Atlanta” in 1998. Shortly after, the team was renamed Atlanta Silverbacks.

John Hardin - John, along with his brother Henry became part owners in 2013. Now John is here to bring the high energy that Jerkunica once praised him for back to the table.

Iggy Moleka - A Silverbacks legend already, Moleka played in Atlanta from 1999 until 2002 and is the team's all time leading scorer. Since retiring, he was an assistant coach with the Silverbacks from 2002-2005, and has been a huge part of player development in Atlanta Youth Soccer.

Phoday Dolleh -  The owner of A+ Sports management group, Phoday is an agent and manager who has served as a mentor to players such as former Silverbacks Kwadwo Poku. He has been a FIFA licensed agent since 2008.

The Leagues

NPSL - Founded in 2003 as the “Men’s Premier Soccer League” the now “National Premier Soccer” has expanded from 6 teams to 85 teams in a 13 year span. The teams are put into regional conferences to keep travel costs low. The Silverbacks with play in the South Atlantic Conference with opponents in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The majority of the players that make up the NPSL are college students and former professionals who hold amateur status. However, clubs are allowed to sign professional players and take them in on loan.

WPSL - The W-League is no more. So a new league was needed to field a Silverbacks Women's team. The Women's Premier Soccer League was founded in a 1998. Like the NPSL, the clubs are divided into regional conferences to keep travel costs low. The Silverbacks women will play in the Southeast conference with opponents from Alabama, Florida, Florida, and Tennessee.

ADASL - Founded in 1967 by Atlanta’s first professional team, the Chiefs, the Atlanta District Amateur Soccer League is the new home for Atlanta SIlverbacks reserves. The ADASL currently has three open divisions and one masters division. Promotion and relegation is a huge part of the ADASL. The top team in each division is automatically promoted, and based on how many teams are in the division above, teams near the top of the division will be promoted. The same principal applies to relegation to the division below. Their season begins in October and is typically over in early May so it will not conflict with the NSPL schedule.

As it stands so far, the changes to the Silverbacks organization look to be for the better. We at Planet of the Backs, are excited for the changes at our club. Between the NPSL, NWSL, and the ADASL, you won't have a problem finding a match to see.

Make sure to follow the club account (@ATLSilverbacks), our account (@SilverbacksBlog) and all of our Silverbacks’ Supporters Partners on Twitter for more Atlanta Silverbacks FC news.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

2016: The Year So Far - by Taylor Peyton

We are now four months into the calendar year and it's been a roller coaster for the Atlanta Silverbacks, even though the season hasn't started yet. Let's go through the timeline of events so far in 2016.

January 11 - NASL Suspends operations
The NASL tried, but a buyer could not be found and we got the announcement we had been dreading but knew deep down was coming

February 23 - AJC officially breaks news that The Silverbacks will return under new ownership
As the fan base was starting to dry it's eyes, we then started to cry tears of joy upon finding out The Silverbacks would have a men's team in the NPSL and a women's team in the WPSL, under the ownership of John Latham, John Hardin, United Futbol Academy, Phoday Dolleh, Iggy Moleka, and the notorious Boris Jerkunica.

The announcement wasn't completely free of controversy as a new crest was announced that looked very similar to the logo of the Atlanta Silverbacks Indoor Facility in Suwanee. Some fans said it was shameless advertising by Boris and the new design wasn't very easy on the eye.

March 8 - NPSL Schedule released
We found out we would be playing, then we found out who we would be playing, and when we'd be playing them.

It begins May 14th against the Georgia Revolution of Conyers, and ends July 2nd against FC Carolina Discoveries. With second fixtures against the Revs and Discoveries, as well as home and away fixtures against Myrtle Beach Mutiny, Tobacco Road FC, and Carolina Railhawks U-23 the schedule is something shorter than Silverbacks fans had grown accustomed to but the new opponents, the pace of the schedule, and the possibility of playing less familiar teams if the Silverbacks find themselves in the playoffs should make for an exciting season

March 31st - Abdul Bangura named Captain
Okay, so we don't have a full roster just yet. But we do know we will be captained by a familiar face in Abdul Bangura. The Sierra Leone international has been with the Silverbacks since 2014. Between his experience, his ability, and the familiarity the fans have with him, Bangura seems to be a good fit as the new face of the club.

April 6th - Silverbacks drawn against Reading United in the US Open Cup, will play Chattanooga FC if they win
Geographically speaking, it doesn't make sense. However, it was announced the Silverbacks opponent in the first round of the Lamar hunt US Open Cup would be Reading United of Pennsylvania from the PDL. Reading United are an affiliate of MLS club Philadelphia Union, and have made it past the first round of the competition every year since 2012. If reputation is something to go by this will be far from an easy game

Should the game end in a Silverbacks victory, their second round fixture would be Chattanooga away. Despite not being in the same NPSL division this season, past Silverbacks triumphs in the USOC and trash talk between the two fan bases have turned this into a bit of a rivalry. Should the Silverbacks beat Reading, it will be an interesting night in Chattanooga when these two clubs play each other.

Still to come:
While we've not been short on news so far, there are still things left to be revealed. There is the matter of the kits, but with how well received last year's kits were I wouldn't expect them to change much. We know who our captain will be but that's about the only name that has been confirmed. As of now the Silverbacks have zero confirmed preseason opponents

On April 30th there will be a Kick Off party at Atlanta Silverbacks Park, with tickets to the event costing $10. Perhaps our remaining questions will be answered prior to, or at this event.